When an LSU team achieved a No. 3 national ranking, the accomplishment wasn’t made with helmets or gloves, but with pots and pans.
That’s because the Culinology Competition Team finished third in the 2009 Research Chefs Association Culinology Competition held March 5 in Dallas, Texas.
“It was the first time that LSU placed in the top three in the nation,” said Captain Darryl Holliday.
Joining Graduate Student Holliday on the team were Sophomore Danielle Johnson and Senior Lyndsey White.
Holliday’s responsibility was to cook a fillet minion, while Johnson made rice pudding, and White prepared ravioli. The team had 90 minutes to cook all three-courses, in a large enough quantity to feed six people.
Judges compared this restaurant-quality meal to a frozen-food version of the same meal that LSU prepared before the competition. Whichever school had the most similar meals would be deemed the winner.
The team qualified for the competition by submitting a proposal that stated the scientific principles that they were going to use in their meal of choice.
“The processes they used were not known in the culinary industry in terms of how to use them,” said Academic Advisor, Dr. John Finley. “That’s why what they brought to the table was very unique, and it was a breakthrough.”
Seventeen schools submitted applications for the competition, but only three were chosen.
“We made a couple of mistakes that caused us to finish third rather than first,” said Finley. “But from a technical standpoint, the science we used was far and above the best.”
Finley said the team cooked the fillet minion with an enzyme called transglutaminase, which improves the texture of a cut of meat.
“The enzyme reforms a meat product so that you could use a low cost portion of meat like brisket and make it into something that has the texture of a fillet minion,” said Finley.
That means that the application of transglutaminase allows the team to cook brisket, which costs $1.42 a pound, and give it the texture of a cut of tenderloin, which costs $7.99 a pound.
This comes in handy, because according to the rules of the competition, the frozen-meal cannot exceed $2.50 in total food cost.
Another way that the team uses science to increase the quality of its meat is in its practice of sous-vide, a low-heat cooking method that cooks the meat in a vacuum-sealed bag.
“All the flavors will be trapped in this bag so we won’t lose any cooking flavor to the meat liquid,” said Holliday. “The protein muscle fibers relax and reabsorb all the juice that has been released into the bag.”
The sous-vide bag cooks in an expensive version of a slow cooker, called a thermal immersion circulator.
These devices currently cost about $950, and they circulate hot water in a precise manner that keeps the temperature constant.
Holliday says sous-vide is more sanitary than traditional cooking, because the bag stops potential bacteria in the water from contaminating the meat.